Future of the Environment

Cheese energy could power hundreds of UK homes 

Cheesemaker First Milk has its own plant that uses cheese energy to produce biogas.

Cheesemaker First Milk has its own plant that uses cheese energy to produce biogas. Image: Photo by Alexander Maasch on Unsplash

Douglas Broom
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of the Environment

  • Cheese energy, in the form of byproducts from the cheese industry, is being used to produce biofuels.
  • Researchers in Argentina have also developed a process for making bioethanol from cheese energy.

The Wensleydale Creamery makes one of England's best-loved varieties of cheese, but it also produces waste.

Now, the bi-products are being put to use creating biogas – the latest evidence of the growing role of cheese in green energy production.

Cheese energy in the form of byproducts from Wensleydale will be used to produce more than 10,000 MWh of energy a year.
Cheese energy in the form of byproducts from Wensleydale will be used to produce more than 10,000 MWh of energy a year. Image: Wensleydale Creamery

The North Yorkshire company will supply whey to a local biogas plant. The facility already uses waste ice-cream to produce gas by anaerobic digestion. The company says the gas from the whey will generate 10,000 MWh of thermal power, enough to heat 800 homes per year.

Further north, in Cumbria, farmer-owned cheesemaker First Milk has its own plant that uses whey to produce biogas.

Electricity from cheese energy

France, home to countless cheeses – from 50 holders of the prestigious official Appellation d’origine protégée status to local farm-made varieties – has a cheese-powered electricity-generating plant supplying 1,500 homes in Albertville in the Alps.

Whey produced by cheesemaking has similarly been used in anaerobic digesters making biogas in other countries, including Italy, Canada, Mexico, the US and New Zealand.

Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, is said to be a convert to cheese energy. His Aston Martin has been adapted to run on biofuel which, UK media have noted, can be generated from leftover cheese and wine.

Energy derived from cheese could help add to global biofuel production capacity
Energy derived from cheese could help add to global biofuel production capacity Image: Statista

The royal cheese energy fuel is supplied by Green Fuels, a UK firm that says it has installed biodiesel plants in more than 50 countries including Mexico, Bali and the US. The US is the world’s largest producer of biofuels, mostly bioethanol from corn.

Have you read?

Researchers in Argentina – a major cheese producer – have also developed a process for making bioethanol from cheese energy. It is estimated the country’s cheese industry generates 9 million tonnes of whey each year, two-thirds of which is discarded.

Anaerobic digestion and biogas could play an important role in creating a circular economy, according to a World Economic Forum report, produced in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company.

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What is a circular economy?

Minimizing waste and making the most of resources could help reduce pressure on the environment, stimulate innovation and boost economic growth. Let's say 'cheese' to the cheese energy.

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